Wanderlust: Key West, Florida

rock formation on Smathers Beach in Key West, FL

I visited Key West, Florida with my cousin Amanda in April 2019. Every time she comes into town, I become a tourist in my home state. I feel like that happens for everyone because the same holds true whenever I visit her in New Jersey.

Most people I talk to don’t like the beaches in the Keys because of all the rocks, but I think that’s a pretty cool difference from the usual sand beaches I’m accustomed to. The rocks are a little rough on the feet, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful. Smathers Beach was my personal favorite. It felt like a scene out of a postcard.

rock formation on Smathers Beach in Key West, FL
Smathers Beach, Key West, FL

Many tourists go to Key West for partying and drinking. While those kinds of activities do abound in this destination, there’s also a fascinating history and past to dig into here.

Hemingway and Tennessee Williams Houses

two women standing in front of the wall with a sign that reads Ernest Hemingway Home with hours of operation and entrance fee rules
My cousin Amanda and I before entering the Hemingway House

As my cousin and I are both writers, we had to stop at the historical houses of two renowned authors. I can’t say I particularly care for Ernest Hemingway’s work, but I still appreciated learning his backstory and visiting his home. And of course, the polydactyl cats always charm.

Prior to visiting the Tennessee Williams Museum, the only thing I knew about the author was his play A Streetcar Named Desire and the infamous “Stella!” scene. But the exhibits and artifacts on display certainly catered to my inner nerd.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

I love visiting state and national parks! There’s always so much to see and learn in these historic sites. Fort Zachary Taylor’s grounds come with one of those rock beaches I talked about earlier. While not easy to walk on, I still thought the ambiance beautiful and perfect on a sunny day in Florida. Stop here and you’ll visit the southernmost state park in the continental U.S.

Oldest House in Key West

Sitting at 322 Duval Street you find the oldest house in Key West, Florida. So many artifacts, documents, exhibits and photos tell the story of those who once called it home. Museums like this hold a certain reverence for me because I wonder if one day the house I grew up in will become a relic for future generations to marvel over how we once lived.

Key West Lighthouse

The lighthouse and keeper’s quarters offered an intriguing look into the formation of the Keys as a thriving home. We even learned about its establishment in 1848 with a woman lighthouse keeper, a first for the times. I highly recommend making the climb up the steep, narrow and winding stairs, as the views are rewarding.

Tours and Other Sites Along the Way

Before we arrived in Key West, my cousin and I enjoyed a leisurely road trip driving south from Hollywood. We made a stop in Islamorada to feed the tarpon. You might have to battle the pelicans to walk out to the pier for the feeding. And mind your fingers when dropping bait for the tarpon, as they truly are beastly fish. I did it once and I’m glad I did, but I don’t think I would do it again.

On your way in or out of the Keys, stop at the No Name Pub in Big Pine Key. At this point, it’s no longer a secret location, as many tourists have made their pilgrimage down the hidden road. But it’s still a fun adventure to say you found the nameless dive bar and enjoyed a pint and surprisingly decent food.

set of picnic tables in front of the No Name Pub in Big Pine Key
No Name Pub, Big Pine Key, FL

We booked a local trolley ghost tour that took us around the city as the guide narrated its spooky history. My cousin and I had been looking forward to meeting Robert the Doll at the East Martello Fort for a long time. But the tour offered plenty of fascinating tales and local folklore to satiate the most curious minds.

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